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Is It Ever a Good Idea to Allow a Default Judgment?

Judge's gavel and stand with US dollar bills on the wooden table.
By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

Recent headlines about R. Kelly facing a default judgment as a result of failing to appear in a civil lawsuit alleging sexual abuse of a minor, appear to be true and as shocking as you might expect. Kelly is facing quite a bit of legal trouble in both criminal and civil courts, stemming from alleged sexual abuse. And though you might be able to count the number of good reasons to default on one hand, as you might expect, R. Kelly’s purported excuse probably wasn’t one of those.

Kelly’s Excuse

Sadly, in a recent court filing, according to TMZ, the troubled celebrity claims to be unable to read due to a learning disability, which is why he defaulted in the recent civil case.

Kelly was behind bars, after being arrested on criminal charges, when he was served the papers for the civil suit. Due to his learning disability, allegedly, he failed to respond at all. Notably, Kelly’s attorneys claim that service should have been made at Kelly’s Trump Tower home, but plaintiff’s counsel replied that security there was too strict to be let through.

And while the standard for relief from default is usually pretty low, the attorney for the alleged victim and plaintiff stated: “One way or another, I’m going to get a judgment.”

Don’t Default, Unless …

As a litigator, it seems it never makes sense to default, after all, litigators aren’t wired to think that way. But for certain cases and clients, a default judgment might just be the most economic, or safest, path. For instance, a client facing a small matter, or a contract case with fixed liquidated damages, might find that defaulting costs less than litigating a sure-fire loser of a case. Additionally, in cases involving sensitive facts, not appearing means no fact discovery, which might be more valuable than a multi-million dollar default. What about cases against companies that are insolvent and can’t afford counsel, let alone a judgment. These cases could be prime contenders for default.

ProTip: If you’re actually considering advising a client to default, consider the ramifications of appearing and stipulating to a judgment as an alternative.

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